Brief History of Carbonization High Temperature

The carbonization of coal has its historical roots in the iron and steel industry. The ironmaking processes developed around the Mediterranean Sea and spread northward through Europe [33]. The Phoenicians, Celts, and Romans all helped spread ironmaking technology, and the Romans brought one of the ironmaking techniques as far north as Great Britain. Originally, charcoal produced from wood was the fuel used to melt the iron ore, and a tremendous amount of wood was needed for this industry. For example, one type of furnace (the Stuckofen) used in fourteenth-century Germany could produce 4000 lb of iron per day with a fuel rate of 250 lb of charcoal per 100 lb of iron produced [33]. This was an early version of the charcoal blast furnace, and these furnaces that developed in Continental Europe soon spread to Great Britain. By 1615, there were 800 furnaces, forges, or iron mills in Great Britain, 300 of them blast furnaces. The rate of growth in the number of these furnaces was so great that, during the 1600s, parliament passed laws to protect the remaining forests; consequently, many blast furnaces were shut down, alternative fuels were sought, and England encouraged the production of iron in its North American colonies, which had abundant supplies of wood and iron ore. The first successful charcoal blast furnace in the New World was constructed at Saugus, Massachusetts, outside of Boston, in 1645.

Due to the depletion of virgin forests in Great Britain to sustain the charcoal iron, the iron masters were forced to look at alternative fuel sources. The alternative fuels included bituminous coal, anthracite, coke, and even peat [33]. The development of coke and anthracite ironmaking paralleled each other and coexisted with charcoal production during the 1700s and 1800s, while bituminous coal and peat never became major ironmaking fuels. The widespread use of coke in place of charcoal came about in the early 1700s when Abraham Darby and his son showed that coke burned more cleanly and with a hotter flame than coal [19]. Up until 1750, the only ironworks using coke on a regular basis were two furnaces operated by the Darby family [33]; however, from 1750 to 1771 the use of coke spread, and 27 coke furnaces were in production. The use of coke increased iron production because it was stronger than charcoal and could support the weight of more raw materials, thus furnace size was increased.

The use of coke then spread to Continental Europe: Creussot, France, in 1785; Gewitz, Silesia, in 1796; Seraing, Belgium, in 1826; Mulhiem, Germany, in 1849; Donete, Russia, in 1871; and Bilbao, Spain, in 1880 [33]. In North America, the first attempt to use coke as the exclusive fuel was in the Mary Ann furnace in Huntington, Pennsylvania, although coke was mixed with other fuels as early as 1797 in U.S. blast furnaces.

The efficient use of coke and anthracite in producing iron was accelerated by the use of steam-driven equipment, the invention of equipment to preheat air from entering the blast furnace, and the design of the tuyeres and tuyere composition [33]. The evolution of both coke and anthracite iron-making progressed in the United States during the 1800s and, by 1856, 121 anthracite furnaces were in operation in the United States. With coke being the strongest and most available fuel, the evolution of 100% coke furnaces continued, with major steps being made in the Pittsburgh area between 1872 and 1913. The Carnegie Steel Company and its predecessor firms developed technological process improvements at its Monongahela Valley ironmaking furnaces that ultimately made it possible for the United States to take over worldwide leadership in iron production. This is not true today, however, as much of the steel production has shifted overseas, beginning in the 1960s and early 1970s.

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